BONUS: How Long Does an Intentional Career Change Take?


on this episode

What if your career change isn’t just about finding a new job, but about making a profound shift towards a more fulfilling life?

What if you want to find work that excites you, that gives you the flexibility and pay you need, while also allowing you to contribute to the world in the way you want? Maybe on top of that you’re interested in exploring completely new industries, roles, or organizations.

We call this an intentional career change. This is a career change where we’re optimizing for life fulfillment (which is inclusive of work!)

How long does that type of career change take??

What we’ve found is that every single person who makes a career change goes through the same milestones. These turn this process into something that feels linear and that we can assign a rough timeline.

Listen as Scott walks through these milestones and gives a timeline of how long you can expect an intentional career change to take! 

What you’ll learn

  • Why intentional career change is more than just finding a new job
  • The crucial milestones that pave the way for a successful transition
  • How to navigate the nonlinear process of career change with a strategic approach
  • The average timeline for making an intentional career change

Success Stories

Introduction 00:05

This is the Happen To Your Career podcast with Scott Anthony Barlow. We hope you stop doing work that doesn't fit you. Figure out what does and make it happen. We help you define the work that is unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you feel like you were meant for more, and you're ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott.

Scott Anthony Barlow 00:30

Right now, as I'm recording this, it's April. What that means to us internally is that people who are contacting us right now to make a career change will likely be starting their new job, not three months from now, not four months from now, but in the first quarter of next year. That comes as a shock to many people. The average timeline of an intentional career change, well, it's often a big surprise. So we decided to put all the information into one bonus episode and break down the anatomy of an intentional career change over a 12-month period. But first, let's talk about what I mean when I say intentional career change. And this type of career change is where we're optimizing for life fulfillment, inclusive of work. This is not just finding out what's wrong with our current situation, and then honing in on that one thing, and then finding a new job that has that problem. And here's what I mean by that. This is the way that most people think about career change. Most people think I just need to go figure out the right type of job or occupation, or, you know, my boss isn't great so I need a place with better leadership, and that's gonna solve all the problems. Or it's just the organization. This organization is not a new fit. So I just need to find a new company and do the same job. Or maybe I just need to find more knowledge on this and so I will enjoy my job more. Let me go get some training on this. And then, of course, I'll be happier. If you've listened to more than one episode of Happen To Your Career, you might already know that this, as it turns out, is the furthest thing from the truth. When we're talking about intentional career change, it's never just one thing. One thing different is never the answer. The tricky thing is here, we're wired as humans to think that one thing is going to be the answer. And if you try all of the one thing, eventually you'll get to the right answer. We're very good as human beings at diagnosing simple problems. We're pretty terrible at diagnosing what are called complex problems, where there are many, many variables, and many, many things that need to be different. And career change, especially intentional career change, solving for that, that's a complex problem. You have to isolate many different variables and make decisions about how each and every one of them are going to impact you. Okay, so this can be quite challenging, as you might imagine, especially where most people are thinking about, like, "Oh my goodness! How on earth am I going to narrow down this anyway?" Even when we're thinking about just the one thing that's different. So this means it requires a much different, much better way to approach career change that is not identify the occupation and the transition to that occupation, and then do all the job searching stuff, instead, a far better way to approach it is recognizing there are all of these different variables and the really wonderful thing is that all of these pieces that we need to figure out, well, it turns out that we actually have pretty great data and research for, not all, but many of these. 50 years ago, 100 years ago, not really the case. But now, in today's day and age, we actually have a lot of the research to support what it is that creates more fulfilling work more frequently.

Scott Anthony Barlow 03:52

Now, here's another thing that people don't think about. Even when we figure out all those pieces, even when we write it down on paper on purpose, we're likely going to get pieces of it wrong, the first time around. Our best guess is still not going to be entirely accurate. So we actually need to build that into the process. What we found is that every single person who makes an intentional career change successfully goes through the same milestones. They do it in different ways. There's different tactics. There's different approaches. But everybody actually still walks through the same milestones over and over again. Four milestones in particular that relate to intentional career change, and then what we call milestones five, and six, well, those help people continue to refine and pivot what work and intentional work looks like for the rest of their life. Today, we're going to cover each of those milestones with a particular focus on the first four that relate to this intentional career change. And by the way, if you've already read Happen To Your Career: An Unconventional Approach To Career Change and Meaningful Work, we do actually cover these milestones in there. So be sure to check that out if you want to learn even more about these. But the thing that we don't cover in the book, and the reason these milestones are so important is that career change is a very nonlinear process. And we don't necessarily cover the timelines that are associated with this very squiggly line, two steps forward, one step back set of events that happens. The milestones turn this process, the squiggly line process into something that feels a bit more linear. It gives us the ability to understand more about what's likely to happen along the way. And we can get behind it as humans because it aligns more with how our brains actually work. So you're probably thinking, okay, we're talking about timelines, "How long will an intentional career change actually take for me?" The reality is there's no source out there that we have been able to find that fully represents how long an intentional career change takes for the average person. My observations are that most people in this world never make, like, they just don't ever make an intentional career change. They don't take control of their lives, they move forward from what comes to them, and they get a job offer, they say, "Should I take this or not?" Instead of the other way around, saying, "Hey, here's the life that I went to live, and the life that I want to build. Here's the work that supports that life. And instead, I want to figure out how I can do that in the real world." Most humans on the planet will never accomplish this. And the ones that do, my personal observation and experience is that it often takes years. For me personally, it took actually seven years. What we're going to do in this episode is we're going to use a different set of data. I want to help you understand what we see, which we do actually have a lot of wonderful data from the last 10-11 years or so, about our clients and how they move through these milestones. So I'll help give you frames of reference. But I want you to recognize that if you don't have help, and you're trying to go this alone, what we've seen is often that it takes years. If you do have help, then it can take it down to a number of months. And we're going to talk about what a transition looks like over a specifically a year or timeframe. So our clients are people who are set on making that intentional career change that we mentioned earlier. And it's important enough to get some type of help, to invest in living more intentionally. Just assume that if you don't have help with this, it's probably gonna take longer than all these timeframes that we talked about here.

Scott Anthony Barlow 07:43

So let's really quickly outline the milestones in the process. Milestone one is setting the stage for your career change, we'll come back to this here in just a moment. Milestone two, is where you begin profiling your ideal career– reading a hypothesis of what or an educated guess of what you believe ideal looks like for you. Milestone three is experimentation, where we validate and get some road signs that we're heading in the right direction. Milestone four is where you take everything that you've learned, and we build a plan in order to make it happen. A lot of people would refer to this as the job search stage. And that's where many people are most familiar. They're less familiar with the first three that actually allow you to make an intentional career change and intentional choices once you get to that job search or more tactical type of stage. Okay, milestone five, I mentioned that this usually comes after intentional career change. Well, milestone five is learning to thrive and work that fits. Milestone six is evolving in your ideal career. Now, a lot of the time, this becomes a cycle as you pivot, evolve, and learn what creates a great fit for you. So we're going to go over each one of these in a little bit more detail. And I'm going to help you understand what it takes to move through each of these milestones on average for what we see for our particular clients over and over and over and over again.

Scott Anthony Barlow 09:13

Okay, remember I mentioned milestone one. Milestone one usually takes around one month on average, give or take. So Milestone One is all about setting yourself up for success or setting the stage for your intentional career change. During this milestone, you identify your purpose for change, you set your life and circumstances up to make your career change a priority. You begin doing things like building your support team or creating extra time and bandwidth to be able to focus on this thing that temporarily in your life is more important in order to make everything else possible. It also involves identifying the obstacles proactively that might slow you down and creating a plan to address those obstacles. I want to give you an idea, here's a few of the actions that we have our clients take during that first milestone. For us, when we're working with them, we onboard them into this process to think about career change differently and spend a small amount of time upfront in doing the work that allows everything else to happen. So they're going through, and they are doing everything since they have our help, they're choosing their coach, they're completing a coaching session call, they're having a kickoff session with their coach, they're doing that kickoff conversation, their coach is clarifying on paper on purpose what specifically the goal is so that we have a great understanding and even better understanding of what we're heading towards, and what are the elements that we need to consider beforehand. So another example of that is we're going through and we're building a plan for inevitable success, or what we call a plan for when it gets hard. And we're thinking through in advance, "How are we going to handle it when it goes wrong? What do we need to change now?" For example, like what do we need to change in terms of our life and expectations from other people, temporarily, so that we can for a short time focus on making this life change. So this milestone really is all about setting up your life so that you're able to commit to this life altering journey that you're about to embark on. I mentioned it takes one month on average. So for example, if you started today, then you'd be working through milestone one, one month from now, you'd finish working through it approximately one month from now. I'm recording this in April, so that would mean in May.

Scott Anthony Barlow 11:46

Okay, Milestone two. I mentioned this is profiling your ideal career, or what we call creating a hypothesis of what you believe your version of extraordinary could look like. We often separate this into what we call minimums, what you must have, or ideals. Ideals are what you really want, and what would create your own personal version of extraordinary. This milestone also tends to take between one to two months. For some people, it's more than that. But what we see is, on average, it's approximately between 1-2 months. So usually people are moving through this milestone during end of month one and going into month two, and working through month two as a whole, sometimes, into month three. That said, if you're starting today, and since I'm recording in April, I'd say that you would be working through this milestone during the month of June and potentially into July. This is where you really start digging into your strengths, you're setting your minimums, your must-haves for what we call the seven elements of meaningful work, which are all of those pieces that tend to matter most as relates to higher level of fulfillment, higher level of meaning that relates to your work. And then using all of that knowledge to create a relatively large list of the decisions you've made that matter more than anything else so that you can create a profile or picture of what your ideal career is, and your personal version of ideal. So during this time, you know, a lot of our clients they're going through a number of exercises in order to figure out and get to the bottom of what are those individual pieces. A lot of times, you can't go straight there, right? In Milestone Two, it doesn't work if we say, "Okay, you tell us what you want." And you just sit down and start listing things. That's not how it works for almost anybody. So instead, we use a series of exercises and questions that we adapt to each individual. And then through that series of exercises and questions, that exposes what people really need in each area of the seven elements of fulfilling work. For example, you know, one element has to do with what do you need as relates to flexibility and autonomy in your life because although we all need some level of autonomy, that doesn't mean it's the same for each individual person. And it's also true of what you value most. You know, people talk about your values, which sounds really ambiguous. But as it relates to careers, then if you understand what you value most in your life, that gives you the ability to then say, "Okay, where can I and how can I use these in my work setting? Ranging from what organizations and the people are those organizations, how do we have shared values? Or how am I not get into a situation that conflicts with those values because that feels terrible?" In all of those cases, this is where we're making those micro-decisions to clarify on paper on purpose in the form of that ideal career profile.

Scott Anthony Barlow 15:05

Okay, Milestone three, experimentation. This involves validating your new direction before you do the work. This usually takes place in months, three to five, you know, if we're looking at a year timeline here, not to your timeline to transition, but your timeline in terms of like what happens over the course of a year for somebody that we're working with, well, then months three to five are often where we're taking that hypothesis, that ideal career profile, and then we're saying "Do we actually have the right version of where we want to go?" And what almost always happens through that process is, as you start testing those parts and pieces in the real world, you get feedback and learnings that cause you to reiterate, and continue to iterate on your hypothesis, or ICP, that ideal credit profile. Okay, so then, what we see is that when you intentionally design what we call career experiments, it allows you to get encouragement about whether or not you're heading in the right direction. For some people, for example, you know, we have somebody working with us right now. And she's testing several different industries that she suspected could be a good fit, could allow her to make the right type of impact that she wants to make in the world. And as she's going through it, she's recognizing that, "you know what, it actually might be less about the industry and more about the individual organization itself." So that's causing her to hone in on a different area in a different way than what she would have when she started the experimentation process. This means instead, that we're now directing her to focus on finding organizations that align with the type of impact that she wants to make and what she values the most. And then once we have that list, which she's building a list initially of 20 organizations, then that allows us to go to the next step, that allows us to identify and meet people in those organizations, so that we can say, "Yeah, you know what? This truly does align" or, "You know what, I thought this organization was a great fit. Turns out, it's not. Now I can cross them off the list. And that's okay." To some people, this experimentation, when you look at it from the outside, can seem like or feel like you're taking steps backwards. Because this industry that in this client's case, she thought she wanted to move into, it turns out, she doesn't. But that's actually great news, it's wonderful because then she gets to stop wasting time thinking about it, and instead move on to what is actually going to be a great fit. So the career experiment milestone ends to take a minimum of two or three months. This is one of the areas that, for some people, can take shorter, and some people can take far longer. Now, these experiments, which we have an entirely different episode, you can actually go to Episode 261, or search designing career experiments in your podcast player, or on Google, and it'll pop up, you can listen to it, it'll give you an idea of a variety of different types of career experiments. Or you can get the Happen To Your Career book and it gives you a variety of examples and stories that go along with it too. In any case, these career experiments can involve building targeted relationships and getting to meet people that are actually in certain roles or certain organizations. Or it can involve being able to test certain types of work by actually going and doing small portions of the work itself. Or it can be any number of other things. We have some types of experiments that are more common than others that we found just work for certain people in certain situations. However, the possibilities are literally endless.

Scott Anthony Barlow 18:59

Okay, Milestone four. For many people, this begins in month six, sometimes month five, and often will continue until you accept your offer or opportunity and make a shift in one way or another. Milestone four is where you take everything you've learned about what creates an ideal situation and everything you've learned through experimentation. And then you get to apply it and focus on what is the most strategically useful way to get to where you want to go. So this is the most tactical milestone. This is where things like interviewing and negotiation and possibly even resumes, although it doesn't always require resumes, enter into the process. The benefit of doing all the work upfront is that when you know exactly where you want to go, it's a lot easier to go and ask for it. Because for some people in milestone three, experimentation, they've now been able to go through and get to know an organization and they've now validated that this organization could be a great fit, and they already have relationships, and it becomes so much easier to be able to go and talk to some of those people and say, "Hey, look, I'm actually really interested in this organization. Now that I've met a bunch of people here, and I know what you all stand for. And I would love to work here. How might we make that happen in the future? What could that look like? What advice would you give me?" It puts you in a completely different situation to pursue work in a very, very different way, a much more organic way, I would say, a much better-fit way, not just for you, but also for the organization that you may be serving in the future, too. Is it harder? Yeah, absolutely. Does it create a better fit more frequently? Yeah, absolutely. So that's just one example of how that might work. In other cases, it could be more traditional interviewing, and in going through a more traditional process for applications, but not always. The benefit here is that when you know where you want to go, so much easier to chart a plan to be able to get there. And it's so much easier to be strategic about it and effective about it. Our clients, usually, as I mentioned earlier, arrive at this milestone in month five, month six, or someplace around there. Since we're in April now, that would typically be like October-ish. And you'd be working through the "job search" or tactical portion of the process for a few months, and then on average, accepting an offer in December, and starting at the beginning of the year. So if you're listening to this, and it's not April right now or beginning of May, then you can just add eight to nine months from where you're at currently. And then that'll take you approximately what we see on average for our clients to accept their offer, and begin to make their transition. And in fact, what we see is that we have a huge number of folks that ended up accepting their offer between month eight and month ten. Actually month, like 7.85, or something on average, I forget exactly what it is, but someplace around there too, you know, month ten.

Scott Anthony Barlow 22:18

All that's good information. But what I want you to take from that is two things. Number one: to make an intentional career change, it's very different than when you're just searching for a job. Most people, like if we're helping get a job, just any kind of job, then like that's a two to three-month deal. That's really easy compared to what we're talking about. The other thing I think to point out is that once you have arrived in your role, once you've accepted an offer, moved into a new role, new organization, whatever it is, made a career change, it's not over. Just because you have the right situation, doesn't mean that you can operate well in it.

Scott Anthony Barlow 23:00

Milestone five is where we're at now. That is what often happens in months 10 to 12. So now you've entered the world of fulfilling work, you're in much, much better alignment. Milestone five is learning to thrive in work that actually fits you. And this usually rounds out your year of career change. A lot of times, we continue working with people after they found their role after they have accepted the offer after they have a start date, a lot of times we'll continue working with people in order to onboard and go into the new organization in a far different way than what they may have in the past. What that might look like is, let's just say you started your new job in January, over the following few months, you'll be educating and training the people that you're working with to honor your boundaries, to help them understand how to work with you best, and often to get over the first initial learning curve of behaving differently in work that fits. And it is a behavior change. And that's what most people underestimate or don't anticipate along the way. So that first 90 days is especially critical because that sets the tone for upcoming years in that organization. It also sets your earnings rate as well because a lot of times there's opportunities to go into that new organization or even in negotiation to be able to pre-negotiate how your earnings may transpire over the course of the upcoming four, or five, six months or even you know, a couple of years beyond that. And most people sort of just are like, "I'm going to get an offer and I'm going to accept the offer and I'm going to move along the way" and they miss the opportunity to be able to do things very, very differently in order to cultivate a situation that continues to improve and continues to become more ideal for them and continues to fit them. Okay, so let's say that you, it's January, you're into that work this time next year, you're in a new job, you have confirmed that this role is truly ideal for you. And by the way, think about that for a second. One year from now, your life could be completely different, you could be entering a new role, entering a new situation, and literally training your co-workers on how to best operate with you and around you in a way that's good for them and the way that's good for you very, very different way to think about it.

Scott Anthony Barlow 25:36

So I would be remiss if I didn't mention Milestone Six, final milestone. It's about evolving your ideal career, continuing to iterate on what ideal looks like for you. That is a continuous cycle. A lot of times, people don't necessarily do the entire thing over again, but that evolution continues to happen. They're in a stage of refinement now, at this point. But here's what happens when people hear about these milestones, they often think, and sometimes they say to us, "Ah, Scott, I already have so much on my plate. I have kids, my kids have activities, I already have friends I don't want to lose touch with. My job is taking 40, 50, 75 hours a week. What on earth am I going to fit this work in that you're telling me is required for intentional career change?" And that starts to feel a little bit hopeless in one way or another. So let me help you understand some options. I think option one, this is always an option, you can hear all that and you could say, "You know, I'm just gonna continue settling for the rest of my life. I know this should be a priority for me, but I'm just actually not going to do anything about it. And I'm just never going to do it. And it doesn't sound like the greatest thing for me, or it's not worth it." And if that's good for you, then, that's your choice. It is still a choice. You could do what I did. I did it by myself. I painstakingly moved through figuring out how to make an intentional set of career changes. It took me approximately seven, almost eight years to figure this out. You could probably do it in less time. Maybe it takes you, you know, instead of seven years, maybe it takes you, I don't know, four years or five years, something like that, whatever. That's a possibility. You could do it alone. You can get help with it. Obviously, that's what we do as an organization. That's one of the reasons that we produce podcasts in order to provide that help in a variety of different ways and provide how to think differently about these sorts of things. Part of getting help would reduce down that time. What we see is that when you get help, these numbers are what we just talked about in this episode, on average, does it fluctuate? Is it different for each individual? Yeah, absolutely. But that 8 to 10-month period of time is what we see for our clients who are getting help and going through the process of identifying, on paper on purpose, what an intentional career change could look like and making that happen in the real world. Those are the average timeframes. What I don't want you to do is I don't want you to lock yourself into that. I do think it's important to recognize what the averages are. But for some people that can be longer, and for some people that can be shorter. I think the important part out of it is there's not one magical situation where one day you're gonna be able to all of a sudden fit all of this work that you perceive in, it is a lot of work, you've heard that on the podcast, in order to do anything intentionally. That's why most of the world is on autopilot as it relates to their career and just accepting what is coming in front of them. But also, everybody has different challenges. Everybody's challenges are different. And the reality is that we all have different challenges around bandwidth, and time, and other things. So you just have to make the decision to move forward imperfectly. And however long it takes, how long it takes, if it only takes you four months or five months, that's great. But if it takes you a year or even two years, so far, we haven't encountered anybody that's like, "Oh, yeah, I wish I didn't take two years on it. I wish that I didn't ever, you know, proceed forward." Instead, what people often say to real people, you've heard them on our podcast, they say, "You know what, this was way harder. It took longer than what I thought. And also, it was totally worth it. My only regret is that I didn't actually start sooner or that I didn't, you know, encounter this more intentional way of living until later in life."

Scott Anthony Barlow 29:35

So that's the thing I want to leave you with. If you're considering a career change, and you want to have an accepted offer before the end of the year or early next year, that means you need to start right now. Imperfectly, even when you don't have the perfect amount of time, even when you don't have it all worked out, making progress is way more important than getting it all figured out. The last thing I'd leave you with is if you want help in this, you know, there's variety of ways that we can help, certainly some of the podcast episodes that I mentioned here and the resources that I mentioned here, definitely, you can go to the show notes and take a look at those, and click on the past episodes. And certainly, you can listen to those. If you want help making this change, we actually only have 18 spots left for the month of May, and 22 for June. These tend to fill up pretty quickly with people wanting to make a change before the end of the year. So if that's something you believe that you're interested in, I would say reach out to us sooner rather than later. You can email me directly and put 'Conversation' in the subject line and we'll figure out the very best way that we can support you, or you can go click the link in the show notes that is Any other way we can help, don't hesitate to email and ask. Thanks for listening. Until next time, I am out. Adios.

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